People with depression often struggle to recall positive memories and, instead, focus on negative life experiences. But British psychologists have developed a new technique that helps depressed patients call up vivid self-affirming memories — by linking them to everyday places and objects — that effectively brightens their mood.
The memory strategy, detailed in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, enhances individuals’ ability to recall and focus on positive day-to-day experiences, which may help ease their depression in the long term.
Lead researcher Tim Dalgleish, of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit of Cambridge said the technique builds on past studies that have shown being able to recall concrete, detailed memories that are positive or self-affirming can help to boost the mood for people with a history of depression. But for people with depression, accessing this kind of vivid memory for everyday events is often difficult.
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To help depressed patients bring back good memories with greater ease, Dalgleish and his colleagues tested the effectiveness of a well-known method used to enhance memory — known as the "method-of-loci" strategy — in a group of people with a history of depression. The strategy involves associating vivid memories with physical objects or locations — buildings a person might see on the way to work every day, for instance. To recall the memories, patients simply imagine commuting to work.
For the study, researchers asked depressed patients to come up with 15 positive memories. One group was asked to create associations with their memories, while a second group was simply asked to group their memories by their similarities. At the end of the study, the participants were asked to recall as many of their 15 positive memories as they could.
The results found both methods helped the patients recall nearly all of the 15 memories in the short run. But a week later, patients who used the method-of-loci technique were significantly better at recalling their positive memories when compared to the others.
Dalgleish said the findings suggest that using the technique of associating vivid, positive memories with physical objects or locations may make it easier for depressed individuals to recall those positive memories, which may help to elevate their mood in the long-term.
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